DENVER – U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on Tuesday announced a $97,683 grant for the Mancos Conservation District to continue developing a new model for school-based food production.
The Farm to School program grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will support the district’s projects bringing local foods to local schools.
The program hires staff to cultivate a farm plot on school district property, increasing students’ access to local foods and engaging students in educational farming and gardening activities.
The program serves Montezuma and La Plata counties, as well as the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes.
“Innovative projects like Local Foods4Local Schools ensure that kids have access to fresh, healthy foods, while supporting local producers and local economies,” Bennet said in a statement. “These types of grants are part of a larger effort to combat childhood hunger and obesity and improve nutrition in schools.
“With this grant, the Mancos Conservation District has this opportunity to expand access to nutritious foods, provide education to students about the source of their food and food options and connect community producers with local schools.”
More than $5 million in grants were awarded to 82 projects nationwide, serving more than 4,800 schools and 2.8 million students – 51 percent of which live in rural communities, Bennet’s office said.
Districts participating in farm-to-school programs purchased and served more than $385 million in local food in the 2011-12 school year, according to the USDA.
Sarah Syverson, director of the Montezuma School to Farm project, said the grant money will help them add to a program in Cortez by expanding to the middle school grounds. The program covers Mancos, Dolores and Cortez.
“This grant will really help us put that into full production and create a program that is really unprecedented across the state and even across the country, to have a farm on public school grounds,” Syverson said.
After not receiving a grant last year, she said the money comes as a pleasant surprise.
“It’s always a surprise,” Syverson said. “It’s one of the most competitive grants you can get.”